Soil and Sky; Love and Joy

There are those who try to hijack Paganism in the name of their bigotry and their hatred: who crow “blood and soil!” as if that means something. As if it is anything more than an adolescent boy’s angry braying.

Like most big lies, the “blood and soil” of neo-Nazis–some of whom describe themselves as “folkish” Pagans or heathens– contains a tiny kernel of truth buried in its pile of garbage. Because there is nothing wrong with a sense of allegiance to land and to family.

The problem is in how right-wing haters narrowly define land and family: they value only this land where “we” came from…and “our people” is only people of our ethnicity.

It’s nonsense, of course. And it reveals a many-layered onion of insecurity, resentment, rage, ignorance, projection and failure to grow.

You can tell by the emotional tone of a religious path whether it is worthy or not. The rage, repression, humorlessness and hatred of fundamentalist Abrahamic religions and “folkish” Paganism alike are clear indicators that they are not paths to joy, liberation, or right living. Our Atheopagan Principle #5–Perspective–makes it clear that for us, a sense of humor is not peripheral: it is essential, so we can keep a humble perspective about ourselves and our journeys.

To us, the soil and sky that are the birthright of every creature on Earth are not grounds for excluding and defensiveness and hatred. No; they are the inspiration for never-ending joy and love, for wonder and amazement.

And we welcome all who would share this awe, this kindness, this generosity.

The philosopher Karl Popper demonstrated in the 1950s that the one thing a tolerant culture cannot and must not tolerate is intolerance, for if it does, intolerance will eventually become its norm. So we should be vigilant, in the Pagan community, not to countenance bigotry and hatred in the name of pluralism: it is the antithesis of pluralism.

Atheopaganism is no different, and we have to be vigilant in protecting our kind, warm community from hatred. When people apply to join the Facebook group, for example, we not only consider their answers to the application questions, we look at their profiles. If we find signs of fascism or bigotry or insensitivity to the experience of the oppressed, we’ll take a pass. Our events have clear and explicit written nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies that every attendee must endorse.

I contend that the Pagan community at large should be doing the same. Conferences should (and many are, I should be clear) exclude participation by such “folkish” bigoted applicants. If they can’t agree to adopt some basic decent values, we are under no obligation to let them play in our spaces.

“Folkish” Paganism/heathenism is a stain on our religious movement. We are well within our rights to shun it, even if it technically meets some of the generally accepted criteria for what constitutes Paganism.


When I think about Paganism, the first thing that comes to my mind is reverence for Nature–for the physical Earth. For Life, here and now.

And I think that’s true of a lot of theistic Pagans, too.

For Pagans–theists and Atheopagans alike–direct access to the Sacred* is a core aspect of our spiritual experience. We need no intermediaries–unlike, say, the Abrahamic monotheisms, where the sacred rites must be performed by a trained man (usually) who serves as an intercessionary between their god and ordinary humans.

In Paganism, on the other hand, subjective personal “gnosis” is often presented by theists as evidence of their gods’ reality.

It seems to me that this presents a problem with the idea of Pagan priesthood. What, exactly, is the point of a priest/ess if everyone has their own direct pipeline to the divine, or the Sacred?

I know that for many theist Pagans, there is a belief that they have been “selected” by one or more god/desses, and are thus priesthood of them. But that seems to me to be more of a claim of a special relationship than of being a conduit or intercessionary. Or maybe a declaration that the person is a catalyst, an organizer of rites to honor that particular god/dess. Certainly it seems to be bound up in the concept of personal identity for many Pagans.

I could be wrong. I’m not a theist and I don’t live in their worldview.

As an Atheopagan, though, I go farther still. it isn’t just priest/esses that are unnecessary intermediaries between the actual Sacred and the humans who seek it. It is gods themselves, the anthropomorphized impressions of the character of the Sacred.

But not for us.

Give me the lightning, not a god of lightning. Give me the sunrise, and not the goddess thereof.

I believe in literally NO intermediaries between the direct revelation of the Sacred and the individual human. You don’t need priest/esses for it, and you don’t need gods for it, either. However incomprehensible they may be, I would rather be baffled by the Universe’s wonders than reassured by a human-created mask someone placed on them to make them more relatable.

But…um, ahem: Atheopaganism has ordained clerics.

So what’s up with that?

In my view, being an Atheopagan cleric isn’t an honorific, nor an identity: it’s a function. It is somewhat equivalent to being someone who organizes an outing for a group going out on the town, and then serves as their designated driver: clerics have agreed to do the logistics and provide a support service to help their communities. Our clerics help people to celebrate the great moments in their lives, to be happier, kinder and better connected to the reality of the Sacred Earth.

It’s not a status elevation; we are all equal, we humans (and that’s why “cleric” isn’t capitalized). It’s more like a merit badge in scouting: it signifies that you have adopted certain values and learned certain skills, and you’re willing to do some work in community service.

So if you’re new to Paganism and confronted with someone who says they are a priest/ess…or even a “high” priest/ess…just know that–whatever they may think of themselves–this mostly means organizing and administrative duties, and it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to go through them to have an experience of the Sacred.

Which is, after all, all around us.

All the time.

*Not the same thing as the divine.

Paganism and Transgression: Some Questions

From Gardner’s nudism and enthusiasm for sadomasochism, which he folded into the foundation of Wicca…

…to taking and embracing the label “witch” (and, to a lesser degree, “pagan”)…

…to taking unusual names and adopting radical environmental and social politics…

…to everything about Aleister Crowley…

…the roots and modern realities of modern Paganism are heavily sown with trangression: with deliberate contravention of societal norm.

It’s not a surprise. In the US, the modern Pagan movement arose simultaneously with and within the context of the countercultural movement of the 1960s, which was, well…counter-cultural.

I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. But it could be an inherent impediment to Paganism ever becoming a widespread movement.

And it raises serious questions:

How much of this differentiation is legitimate throwing-off of repressive shackles, and how much just contrarianism?

And is it intrinsic to  Paganism that it be transgressive, norm-violating …weird?

Would it ever be possible for Paganism to be as widespread as, say, Catholicism? To be a major driver in our societies? How viable are we, as a social movement, for significant adoption?

Or are we—by definition and by necessity—minority outliers who must remain so?

I don’t have answers to these questions, but I think they’re important to ponder.

Because it’s a big set of questions indeed.